Funeral Under Way for Queen Mum
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LONDON (AP) _ Kings, queens and royalty from around the world mourned the Queen Mother Elizabeth at her funeral Tuesday in Westminster Abbey as huge crowds stood outside, honoring a woman beloved for her kindness and dedication to duty.
In a great display of regal pageantry, 192 bagpipers and drummers of royal regiments escorted the royal matriarch’s coffin to the ancient abbey as people across Britain and around the world mourned her death March 30 at the age of 101. The shrill lament of the bagpipes was punctuated by the staccato beat of drums.
The 13th century abbey’s great Tenor Bell was rung 101 times to mark the age of the queen mother, its mournful tones echoing across the surrounding squares and streets crowded with mourners.
The queen mother’s coffin, draped in her personal flag and topped with her crown, was carried to the abbey on a gun carriage pulled by six black horses of the Royal Horse Artillery. The same gun carried the coffin of her husband King George VI at his funeral in 1952.
The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and other senior members of the British royal family, many of them in uniform, walked behind the coffin.
Along the funeral route, tens of thousands of people stood silent, their heads bowed in remembrance, some dabbing away tears, as the coffin passed. Royal guards in red jackets and black bearskin hats, sailors and Royal Marines in deep blue and Royal Air Force troops in light blue lined the route.
People began gathering well before dawn despite strong winds, freezing temperatures and a gray sky. The most ardent admirers camped on sidewalks during the night, including a few who had been waiting since the weekend.
``It has been a wonderful atmosphere and it is almost as if she is still with us,″ said Janie Johns, 48, who had slept on the sidewalk huddled inside a sleeping bag.
Wrapped up against the cold, Carol Hassall, 52, waited with her guide dog, Dorrie. ``I remember watching the queen mother before I lost my sight and now I’m here to sample the atmosphere, which will be fantastic,″ she said.
Giant bouquets of the queen mother’s favorite tulips, roses and other flowers adorned the abbey. Candles burned inside the ancient church, which was crowded with some 2,100 guests, as the giant organ played mournful music.
Much of Britain was expected to come to a standstill for the funeral, as people gathered around television sets across the country to watch the ceremony and many companies held moments of silence.
Before the funeral, up to 200,000 people stood in line, some for up to 12 hours, to view the queen mother’s coffin as it lay in state at Parliament for four days. The doors finally closed Tuesday morning with people still rushing to get in.
Leaders and representatives from across the world attended the funeral in a great display of Europe’s royal houses. Some 25 foreign royals, including the monarchs of Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, attended, along with U.S. first lady Laura Bush, and the leaders of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the representatives of many other countries.
Thousands of police officers mounted a massive operation to guard the abbey and the huge guest list of foreign leaders and dignitaries. London has been on top security alert since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After the funeral, a cortege was to take the coffin by car to Windsor Castle for the royal family’s private burial of the queen mother in a chapel alongside her husband. Prince Charles was to accompany the coffin.
The ashes of the queen mother’s youngest daughter, Princess Margaret, who died a few weeks before her mother at the age of 71, also were to be interred there.
Throughout the days of national mourning, the royal family repeatedly reached out to the British public to thank them for their sympathy. The death appeared to unite the royal family and the British nation after a decade marred by scandal and controversy for the royals.
In another sign of healing, Camilla Parker Bowles, the companion of Prince Charles, was to attend the funeral.
In a nationally broadcast message of thanks Monday, the queen told the nation that she had been ``deeply moved″ by the outpouring of affection that followed her mother’s death.
``I have drawn great comfort from so many individual acts of kindness and respect,″ the queen said in the message filmed at Windsor Castle.
The queen mother, who won the loyalty and support of the nation during World War II, maintained that bond through half a century, appealing to new generations with her humor and dignity.